India’s pool of talent is enviable, but a deeper look narrates the paucity of middle-order options in T20Is, writes Sarah Waris.
That the Virat Kohli-led India team are desperately hoping for Hardik Pandya to get back to full fitness and rhythm ahead of the T20 World Cup is an indication of the skills of the all-rounder. Despite question marks over his bowling ability since undergoing back surgery in 2020, Hardik has been backed by the management to come good on the biggest stage. With a strike rate of 145.34 in 49 T20Is, Hardik has time and again shown his potential with the willow.
However, he has a below-par record this year: averaging 8.66 in the IPL in 2021. His strike rate of 118.18 for Mumbai Indians coupled with the fact that he has not bowled a single delivery for the franchise in the last two seasons makes one wonder if his selection in the T20 World Cup squad is due to the promise of performance rather than current form. His selection also throws open a new debate: does his inclusion, overlooking his fitness issues, have more to do with the lack of other middle-order options (positions No.4-7) available at India’s disposal?
The India squad for the T20 World Cup remains top-heavy, with Hardik, Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja likely to make-up the lower middle-order, and unable to inspire a great deal of confidence: Hardik is in indifferent form, while Pant has not been able to translate his Test success into T20Is, averaging just 21.33 after 33 matches. Jadeja has batted only six times in T20Is since the start of 2019, but India were forced to go ahead with the trio due to the lack of other players vying for selection.
How have India’s middle-order options performed in the IPL since the start of 2019?
Since the start of IPL 2019, the only Indian players to have scored 500-plus runs in the middle order are Pant, Hardik, MS Dhoni, Ambati Rayudu, Dinesh Karthik, and Ishan Kishan.
The likes of Deepak Hooda, Rahul Tewatia, Riyan Parag, Krunal Pandya and Abdul Samad have managed to win the odd game for their respective IPL teams since 2019, but their averages highlight how inconsistent they have been. Tewatia, not long ago in the reckoning for an India debut, has 12 scores of fewer than 30 in 16 innings following his epic 53 off 31 against Punjab last year. This IPL, he has a high score of 40, which has taken his tally to 97 runs this season at 13.85 and a strike rate of just over 111. Krunal, who has made his India debut, averages just 14.50 in the IPL this year.
In contrast, a number of exciting top-order prospects have emerged after consistent showings in the tournament in the last three editions. Since 2019, Suryakumar Yadav, Shreyas Iyer, Prithvi Shaw, Sanju Samson, Shubman Gill, Devdutt Padikkal, Nitish Rana, Ruturaj Gaikwad, and Rahul Tripathi have taken their chances, either impressing with their fearless approach or their ability to anchor the innings and set a platform for the others to follow.
The India squad for the T20 World Cup looks solid, and while there may still be concerns over the triumvirate of Jadeja, Pant, and Pandya, these are players capable of delivering on their day. Having a strong middle-order, including finishers, to carry forward the momentum of the top order is necessary to become a world-beating side and India will hope the IPL keeps throwing them bright talents for all roles.